South Asian writers are diversifying the romance genre and these two novels, The Retreat by Zara Raheem and Much Ado About Nada by Uzma Jalaluddin, offer more than just a predictable romance novel; they also focus on South Asian Muslim protagonists and their lives.

Both novels take readers into the heart of Muslim immigrant communities and explore the struggles of young women as they navigate culture, faith, community, and Islamophobia to find love and happiness. The novels are enjoyable, witty, and satisfying.

In Much Ado About Nada, author Jalaluddin adapts Jane Austen’s Persuasion, with a nod to Austen’s exploration of the theme of second chances in love rather than a point-by-point reworking that other Austen adaptations attempt to do. This reference to Austen reminds us that Austen novels are part of the fabric of South Asian culture and Jalaluddin’s narrative helps reframe Austen in South Asian and contemporary terms.

Protagonist Nada is a South Asian Canadian Muslim tech entrepreneur who lives with her parents, her older divorced brother, and her younger disabled brother. Her friend, Haleema, is about to marry Zayn, a Muslim rock star, and she wants Nada to meet Baz, Zayn’s brother. Nada is struggling with the loss of her start-up tech company, which created an app called “Ask Apa” for Muslim women to find community and life advice. Just before the launch of her company, her tech collaborator steals the idea and launches his own version of the same app causing Nada significant financial loss and heartbreak.

While Nada’s friends and family want her to marry soon, she is reluctant to do so because of the failure of a secret marriage while in college. The Muslim convention in Toronto, managed by Zayn’s family, brings Nada’s past into her present, shaking her.

Jalaluddin’s narrative moves between timelines as we learn of Nada’s struggles as an entrepreneur and her first major romance that failed. The secondary plot lines focus on Haleema’s difficulties in her relationship; on Nada’s brother Waqas and his divorce, single parenting, and search for love; and on Jamal’s desire to be financially and socially independent and not be limited by his disability.

Will Nada find love? Will she find justice for her entrepreneurial experience? Will Haleema, Waqas, and Jamal achieve their dreams? In a romance novel, the outcome is predictable, but what holds the reader’s interest is the characters’ journey to self-discovery. Jalaluddin’s narrative delights.

Zara Raheem’s The Retreat tells the story of Nadia Abbassi, an optometrist in California, who is married to a cardiologist named Aman. On the surface, their union is a dream marriage of two attractive people who are in love, are financially secure, and have much in common. However, the marriage is troubled — the couple have faced miscarriages and grieve their inability to become parents.

Nadia has distanced herself from her sister, Zeba, who lives in the same town and is married to a professor and has two rambunctious children. She is also convinced that her husband is having an affair after finding some incriminating photographs. She reaches out to her sister for support as she struggles with this knowledge.

We learn that Nadia is haunted by her own mother’s experience with marital infidelity, the departure of her father, and the eventual death of her mother from cancer.

Nada and Zeba engage in sleuthing and suspect that Aman is cheating on Nadia with his glamorous yoga instructor. The sisters hatch a hare-brained scheme for Nadia to go to a wellness retreat with the yoga instructor to further investigate the situation and to persuade the instructor to break off her relationship with Aman. Predictably, the plot goes awry.

Nadia confronts Aman, but the narrative has a surprising twist at the end. Nadia emerges from the experience with a better sense of herself and a stronger relationship with her sister. Author Raheem tells a good story and creates strong women characters in Nadia and Zeba. This novel is a satisfying read and overturns any stereotypes we might have about Muslim couples and the immigrant community.

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